Thailand to extradite 'Merchant of Death' Wednesday

24th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

Escorted by dozens of Thai commandos, an alleged Russian arms dealer will be taken from prison Wednesday to a Bangkok airport and extradited to the United States, police said, despite strong opposition from Moscow.

US authorities have sent a private jet to Don Mueang airport to take away Viktor Bout -- dubbed the "Merchant of Death" -- on terrorism charges, said Crime Suppression Division acting chief Supisarn Bhakdinarinath.

He will be guarded by 50 armed police commandos during the transfer from the Bang Kwang maximum-security prison, where he is being held, he said.

"I cannot say the exact time and route because it's top secret," Supisarn added.

Bout, said to have inspired the Hollywood film "Lord of War" starring Nicolas Cage, has been fighting extradition since his March 2008 arrest after a Bangkok sting operation involving US agents posing as Colombian rebels.

He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted in the United States on charges including conspiracy to kill US nationals and to provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organisation.

The extradition -- ordered Friday by a Thai appeals court -- prompted a furious reaction from Moscow, which voiced "extreme disappointment," saying the decision was politically motivated.

The United States in contrast has hailed the extradition ruling and said Bout's prosecution would be an "utmost priority".

Washington, which has described Bout as "one of the world's most prolific arms traffickers," had lobbied hard for his extradition, summoning the Thai ambassador last week to emphasise it was of "the highest priority".

Bout allegedly agreed to supply millions of dollars of weapons to undercover US agents in Thailand posing as rebels from Colombia's Marxist FARC group, which Washington considers a terrorist organisation.

US prosecutors allege he agreed to the sale with the understanding that the weapons were to be used to attack United States helicopters.

A US indictment accuses Bout of using a fleet of cargo planes to transport weapons and military equipment to parts of the world including Africa, South America and the Middle East.

It alleges that the arms he has sold or brokered have fuelled conflicts and supported regimes in Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan.

Bout has denied the charges and says that he ran a legitimate air cargo business.

Thailand has denied any political motives behind its decision to extradite Bout, a 43-year-old former Soviet air force pilot who is said to speak six languages and go by at least seven different aliases.

Russia's consul to Thailand, Andrey Dvornikov, said he was unaware of Wednesday's extradition plan, adding that he had visited Bout in prison earlier in the day and that the suspect was also unaware he would be sent to the US so soon.

© 2010 AFP

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